Non-appointment of Insurance Commissioner leaves widow’s appeal for survivor’s benefits in limbo

The longstanding absence of a National Insurance Commissioner has left one elderly woman unable to appeal a decision by the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) tribunal to disallow her the payment of survivor’s benefits.

This is the story of Ismay Lake, a 65-year-old widow, who, with her daughter, has been trying to access survivor’s benefits from the NIS for some time now.

Lake’s plight was first highlighted in a letter she wrote, which was published by Stabroek News on June 1st, 2018.

In the letter, she explained that her husband died on July 14th, 1990, leaving behind a child who was 11 years old at the time of his death. 

She noted that her husband had made in excess of 1,000 contributions when he died, but being ignorant of the NIS process, she did not make a claim for survivor’s benefit until November 2016, twenty six years after his death.

“This was as a result of the social assistance I collected from the Ministry of Social Protection being stopped and being informed by officers from the said Ministry that I am entitled to a survivor’s pension from NIS. My claim for survivor’s pension was denied by the NIS who informed that the time for claiming the benefit had passed,” Lake wrote.

She noted that though she appealed the decision, contending that her claim should not have been disallowed in its entirety but disqualified for the period from the date of her husband’s death to six months before the claim was made.

“My appeal was heard at NIS Leonora Office on May 22, 2018 and disallowed by the Chairman, NIS Appeal Tribunal. He introduced new facts for disallowing my claim, erroneously stating that because of my age (37 years) at my husband’s death, only my daughter who is now 39 years of age was entitled to survivor’s benefit and that would have been up to her attaining 16 years of age,” the woman said in her letter.

She further noted that the next step would have been to appeal the Tribunal Chairman’s decision to the National Insurance Commissioner. However, Lake explained that she has since been advised that there has not been Commissioner, who must be appointed by the President, for over 12 years.

“I am a poor 65 year old Amerindian widow who has no source of income and depend on my daughter for my upkeep. As a consequence, I appeal to any concerned person or association to represent my case in the absence of a National Insurance Commissioner and my inability to seek justice in the Supreme Court. With the taking away of my social security assistance, the disallowance of my claim by the GM, NIS and my appeal to the Tribunal being disallowed, I am inclined to believe I have been identified for “special” treatment and which appears to be discriminatory,” Lake concluded.

Pearla Subrattan, the daughter of Ismay Lake, told Sunday Stabroek that they had been invited to the NIS office two weeks ago after several letters highlighting her mother’s plight had been published in the newspapers.

She noted that during the visit they were told that the General Manager of NIS would be looking into the issue and would later contact them.

However, Subrattan said several days passed and they had not heard from the NIS and as a result they decided to visit the office last Tuesday to see whether there was any update on the issue. It was then that they were told that the appeal would have to be heard by the National Insurance Commissioner, which is a post that remains empty.

“We went back today to see what happening and was told that there is no commissioner and that we would have to wait until one is appointed before the appeal can be heard. We don’t know what to do anymore. It is very frustrating for us because we not getting help nowhere,

 the woman shared.

“We even visited the Ministry of Indigenous Affairs a month ago and spoke with Mervyn Williams about the issue; we went back to try to speak with him today after we left NIS but his secretary told us he’s not in and to leave our number. I don’t know if we have to go to the President now or what to highlight what’s happening but it’s very frustrating for us,” she added.

Meanwhile, when this newspaper enquired, NIS Public Relations Officer Dianne Lewis-Baxter confirmed that the absence of the Commissioner is delaying Lake’s appeal process.

“She (Lake) filed an appeal but it was disallowed by the Tribunal and then she filed a second appeal because that’s her right according to the law but once it’s a second appeal it has to be referred to the Commissioner, but at present we don’t have one. In most instances, those cases are referred to the Commissioner but we don’t have a Commissioner at the time and that has been the situation for the longest while. As you should be aware, the Commissioner is someone who is appointed by the President,” Lewis- Baxter explained.

 In essence, Lake’s chance of having her second appeal heard is now dependent on the appointment of a Commissioner.

“The General Manager did promise that she would enquire how soon a Commissioner will be appointed because her case is not the only case,” she added.

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